Going undercover in Zimbabwe

The World

LL �the trip was undercover because the government in Zimbabwe doesn’t allow foreign journalists inside Zimbabwe so the only way to get in there and try to tell some of the stories about what’s going on in there is to do without being detected while you’re inside the country.� LM �so to the extent that you can tell us this, how did you get in?� LL �Well I’ll tell you, I was doing this project for the radio and television, for the CBC, so I went in with a CBC cameraman and he and I posed as bird watchers and because we aren’t bird watchers we took some books with us and if they were going to ask us questions, we were going to tell them that we were beginning bird watchers. That helped us alleviate the need for us to explain why we had a camera with us, if they were going to ask us why we had a camera. So at the end of the day, we weren’t asked those questions, we were actually let in pretty easily at the airport of the second city in Zimbabwe and we deliberately chose to fly into that airport because it’s more antiquated than the Hariri airport and we didn’t see a computer inside anywhere and we got through quite easily.� LM �I understand you had a tripod for that camera that you had with you.� LL �yes we needed the tripod so Richard, the cameraman, wrapped it up in his duffle bag and once we had it in secure plastic at the Johannesburg airport, it looked rather oddly shaped and the woman who was checking luggage on the way in, they’re checking for guns by the way, mainly, she thought it looked rather suspicious and she tried to get Richard to open the bag and they couldn’t tear the plastic apart. So she went off in search in scissors and it was Zimbabwe so she couldn’t find any so she eventually had to give up and let him go through and that was a relief to us, that there were no scissors and nothing was detected and we made it out the door and we were delivered into the arms of our guide who was going to take us through the next few days inside Zimbabwe.� LM �So in those few days, tell us what you saw in Zimbabwe, specifically in Hariri? This is a country, as we said, with an 8,000% inflation rate. What does a country like that look like?� LL �well in Hariri, the most visible symptom of that are the lineups at the bank. They were everywhere in downtown Hariri, people snaking around the corners. Hundreds of people lined up, waiting to get to the bank machine, trying to withdraw whatever cash they could because they were desperate to get cash out to spend it while it still had some value attached to it because of course whatever money you have in your hands today is going to be worth less tomorrow and worth much less next week. They have long lineups for bread or other kinds of food when foods come into the stores because the stores can no longer afford to buy the food they need to keep it in stock. And they have enormous lineups for gas because there is just not enough gas in that country for people to get around.� LM �well I cannot imagine people use sort of ATM machines. Do they bring a stack of bills with them to the store?� LL �you have to. I was actually sitting down with some people and I asked them to give me as much money as they had at that time and they gave me $50 million Zimbabwe dollars. It’s about three inches high.� LM �What would something like that buy?� LL �I asked them what that would buy and they said it would buy you two quarts of juice, a loaf of bread, and some toilet paper. But that was only if you could actually find those kinds of things in a store. And that was all the money a group of about five or six people had, about $50 million Zimbabwe dollars at that time. Now those who can try to keep foreign currency around, they try to use that more easily to get the things they need and they can survive a little more easily than those who are less well off and are just scrambling to get by.� LM �didn’t the president there recently, to try to alleviate this crisis, decide to print more money?� LL �that’s not really helping much, it only adds to the inflationary spiral and they’re knocking zeroes off of it. nothing is alleviating this. They tried to freeze prices on the goods that are coming into the country and that meant the people who are supposed to be buying the goods could no longer afford to buy the goods because they couldn’t sell it for what they needed to sell it for. So it’s just this endless cycle and meanwhile people continue to suffer more and more and more.� LM �how are the people of Zimbabwe getting by?� LL �I’ll give you a couple of snapshots. One is the schoolteacher who’s trying to get by on a salary of about $12 million Zimbabwe dollars a month and he can’t afford to feed his family on that because a loaf of bread costs $1 million and he still has to pay for everything else including power that’s on and off in his house. So he’s very, very worried about how he’s going to continue supporting his pregnant wife, his mother, his brother in the coming months. Then I also met a doctor. He’s the head of the Physicians for Human Rights inside Zimbabwe. He works in a private clinic. He would be one of the better off people in the country. the day I went to interview him in his home, he actually was late because he’d been out looking for breakfast for his family which meant going around to different stores to find the food he needed for breakfast and he came back with a box of cereal and some fruit and some firewood. And I asked him what the firewood was for, and he said the power had been out in his house for 28 days. So he needed the firewood in order to be able to cook. And he is one of the better off people in the country and he wants people to know about that because he says it gives people a better idea of what life is like in there. He says it also helps him understand how bad it is for the people that he’s treating.�

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